John "Jack" Crouse (1933 - 2010)

With the passing of 77 year old John (“Jack”) Calvin Crouse last evening, a victim of cancer, another generation of Crouse family has come to an end. Jack was my uncle and a close family supporter for these many years of my own family through his sister, my mother, Grace Madeline Crouse-Gleason. He was a gentle man who played an important part in my own life in those early formative years when such gifts are seldom noticed. It is in passing that one reflects back on moments in life in which a relative has made a difference and pauses to say thanks.

Jack, as we all knew him, was there early on when my 4 year old sister, Mary Ellen, was struck and killed by a motorist in one of those accidents that should never have happened but couldn’t be avoided with nobody really at fault. Jack was just a teenager back then in the mid 40’s when he came to support us in that time of loss. Recently, as he was dealing with his own fatal illness, I shared with him the chapter written about my own dad (“Memories of My Dad” which you too can read by clicking on that title)  which included my 5 year old recollections of that moment in time and his visit of support.  Jack enjoyed reading that chapter but shared that he couldn’t read that part as it still held too much emotional memory for him, even now some 60 years later.

Many years later and after returning from three years of living in Australia (what a neat experience that was for this young boy), in my own teen years, I found myself working summers at the Crouse Coal and Lumber Supply in Fords, NJ where Jack was the main force in this family owned business.  It was good hard work and I hold many fond memories of that outdoor physical labor that helped shape my life at that important stage of value formation as I began my college career at Seton Hall University, funding my tuition with the pay from this work.  Along with learning customer service, each day held a different adventure, like a freight car of lime or concrete mix (60 or 100lbs/bag) which fell to me (“the kid”) to offload, one bag at a time (only later did they buy a fork-lift to do that work), walking off the huge freight car over a wooden plank back deep into the storage shed, only to reverse it to get another bag until the car was finally empty which sometimes took a few days of that sweaty hot summer monotonous labor.  One very vivid memory of those days is when a family contractor friend asked Jack “if he could borrow the kid” for some foundation work on a house he was building.  (I love that ‘property like’ reference to “the kid” and how easily my labor was given away… yes, even today it has a positive feel for me, pretty amazing).  And thus I found myself assigned to digging a long foundation trench in the hot summer sun, a trench that was mostly rock, very hard to dig in.  For a few days I “labored” at that task, later also having the fun of hammering flooring nails on the second floor of this house to be.  I returned to the lumber yard a new person, and in going back to college that Fall knew that I was not going to be a laborer in that way for the rest of my life, finding inspiration and new motivation in my classes.  It was simple thing for Jack, but for me it was life changing, and just one example of how one person can impact another’s life, probably without even knowing it.

Yes, “uncle Jack” was there for all of us, the younger brother to my mother, his older sister, especially after my dad passed away back in ’69 leaving us kids open to his influence and family care, most important for my youngest sister, Maggie, who needed a father image in her own developing years.  Jack was there for her in that special way and I know his passing will be an even greater loss for her because of that.  When a cousin, Marian Stone, was in need of support in her own final months, it was Jack (and Pat) who reached out in support for her needs, his usual gift of self for family again.

After Jack took the “yard” through the dying business of coal and lumber supply into an office complex of sorts, he moved on to work as a toll collector on the NJ Turnpike, a seemingly simple job, but one that saw its share of abuse from drivers taking out their driving/toll frustrations on the collector in their booths.  Oh the stories Jack would tell us!

Holidays were family gathering time at our grandmother’s home in Perth Amboy and the table was filled with aunts and uncles.  I often sat next to uncle Jack, and with the unseen cooperation of someone on the other side of Jack, we interrupted his taking of food for his own plate by repeatedly asking “Jack, can you pass the …?”  He never seemed to catch on as he dutifully complied to our requests over and over, his own plate remaining empty as we filled ours with food and quiet smirking giggles at this family prank.

Jack's pride and joy...

Jack, proud owner of that beautiful antique green and white 1964 T-bird (I can still see him in his own retirement years sitting at the car shows enjoying the envy of the visitors looking over his “baby” and the day I stopped by and he treated me to a hot dog and soda as we sat and chatted about the show and his car…), will be missed, but his impact lives on as this next generation carries out his legacy through his gifts of influence passed along through that family support.  In later years, under the initiative of sister Maggie, Jack and Pat would join family (namesake, my brother John – also claiming “Jack” as his own name – Jack’s daughter, Gail and husband, Joe, Pam and I and Mag’s husband, Barry) for lunch at the nearby Panera Bread in Menlo.  Jack’s tastes were simple but family celebrated Jack’s memory with a post funeral fancy luncheon that probably would not have been his choice, but was certainly an appropriate family filled send off that sad day.

Jack and Pat, his wife of 37 years

It was very hard to see his painful last few months fighting cancer and so this passing for him was a final blessing.  Thankfully we visited together in those final days and he was lucid enough to recognize me and as was his usual way, no matter his pain or life situation, to ask, “So how are YOU feeling?” in a gentle whisper of strained voice.  It was obvious that this was to be a final good bye and thus it came as no surprise when the call came just two days later that he had passed quietly, finally giving up the good fight and leaving the pain behind.

One final thought of Jack is that he always seemed young.  Thinking about that, I realize that at 77 (and in those final days with gray hair and frail body wasting he certainly no longer looked so young), one can still be young of spirit, but that is no longer a young age.  I think the description would be better conveyed with  the word “ageless” and that is what Jack will always remain for me (and I’m sure his family too), AGELESS.

Our love and condolences go out to his wife, Pat, and daughter, Gail.  His was a quiet life of hard work, carrying on the family name until now when he is the last of that generation to rejoin the rest of his family in the life hereafter. 

“Thanks, Jack, for being who you were and sharing that with us all.”

and

“Thank you, Pat, for allowing me the honor of giving his eulogy for which the above memories/stories were recalled and shared.”

– little nephew, Jim

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